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During V(D)J recombination, recombination activating gene proteins RAG1 and RAG2 generate DNA double strand breaks within a paired complex (PC) containing two complementary recombination signal sequences (RSSs), the 12RSS and 23RSS, which differ in the length of the spacer separating heptamer and nonamer elements.
Despite the central role of the PC in V(D)J recombination, little is understood about its structure. Here, we use fluorescence resonance energy transfer to investigate the architecture of the 23RSS in the PC. Energy transfer was detected in 23RSS substrates in which the donor and acceptor fluorophores flanked the entire RSS, and was optimal under conditions that yield a cleavage-competent PC.
The data are most easily explained by a dramatic bend in the 23RSS that reduces the distance between these flanking regions from >160Å in the linear substrate to <80Å in the PC. Analysis of multiple fluorescent substrates together with molecular dynamics modeling yielded a model in which the 23RSS adopts a U shape in the PC, with the spacer located centrally within the bend.
We propose that this large bend facilitates simultaneous recognition of the heptamer and nonamer, is critical for proper positioning of the active site and contributes to the 12/23 rule.